During the course of the night, I managed to sit down with Alfie and Baby to interview them about their start in drag, how LGBTQ+ students should navigate university life and what shows like Drag Race do for the queer community.
Interview: Alfie Ordinary
So, to start off slightly simply, how did you get into drag originally?
Alfie: Ummmm, I [chuckles] was doing singer-songwriter stuff – I was really inspired by Kate Nash – and so I was sort of always performing a little bit. And then I just sort of found cabaret and drag. I went to see Joe Black’s House of Burlesque and it’s sort of everything. I went to uni and did theatre and was really into visual arts, costume making and makeup. I loved fancy dress; any themed party I would be there. And then suddenly it all fell together and I was like ‘oh cabaret, and I can do music, I can do theatre, performance’. It’s all in there.
What does drag personally mean to you?
A: Oh my gosh! That’s a big question. I got into it because I was attracted by the dressing up. I just really enjoyed that escapism, creating something visual. But the more I looked into it the more I sort of discovered what drag was saying, what it was discussing a lot of the time. Which is obviously like toxic masculinity and femininity and you are sort of playing with those. So, it’s been really interesting exploring those parts of society through wearing sequins. [Alfie laughs – side note: it’s the most endearing, heart-warming laugh]
Obviously, we’re a university in the middle of freshers week so we’ve got a lot of new students, what would be your message for any new LGBTQ+ students being exposed to a lot of this for the first time?
A: [huge gasp] Get stuck in! Get involved. It’s fun. I think one of the most important parts of drag is that it’s approachable and, you know, we can discuss some pretty strong topics and politics but its always done with a bit of a wink and a nudge. The energy in that room [points to Mandela Hall] is already huge and it’s amazing that a bunch of queer people can come together and just celebrate each other and yeah it just feels like a good space to be in.
Why should people of all backgrounds, of all genders, sexualities and races embrace drag culture?
A: There’s no rules. Drag started from marginalised communities and like I said it’s a celebration of that. And although its, you know, in the mainstream a lot more now its roots are still in oppression. And, um, what am I talking about. [laughs] Its roots are still in oppression and so regardless of your background, who you are, what you do, you’ll still be welcomed in any drag space because the whole point of it is inclusivity.
We’ve talked about mainstream so bringing it kind of back to Drag Race, the most mainstream outpouring of drag at the moment, how do you think shows like Drag Race or Dragula or popular queens like Courtney [Act], especially in the UK, help and hinder the drag community?
A: Courtney is doing amazing things at the moment. We haven’t seen drag on British TV since Lily Savage, maybe 20 years ago. So, it’s great she’s got a tv show coming out which is amazing.
Chris: Two TV shows!
A: Is it two??
C: She’s got The
A: The Bi Life
C: and The Courtney Act Show on Channel 4. They are doing a kind of cabaret chat show.
A: YES! Thank god!
C: And then obviously The Bi Life as well.
A: I’m going to be ringing her up like ‘Hey I want to come on your show!’
C: Honestly, you probably could.
A: Maybe, maybe. I don’t know. We’ll see. So, she’s doing amazing things which is great. She uses her platform really positively to raise awareness and just kind of educate people. Her videos that she did with MTV were incredible talking about PrEP and consent and all these important issues. I think that always has been the job of the drag queen within the community. She’s taking that and really rolling with it. And yeah, it’s great. I’m really excited about that. Drag Race has created like an almost cardboard cut out drag queen. Which is fine. It’s fine. I f*cking love Drag Race. I’m sad there’s not more sewing challenges. They always seem the best ones. That’s what I like about drag and the making. I can’t sew but I really enjoy watching people make all these outfits. You have that sort of cardboard cut-out queen but it created a whole new movement. I think it empowered a lot of people. It definitely empowered me. I was suddenly like ‘Oh my god, this is great! There’s all these queer people on TV and they’re living their best lives.’
C: I mean they just won two Emmys.
A: Exactly! And it’s wonderful that it is opening a lot of conversations for people. You see kids going to drag shows with their parents and it’s like this is incredible.
C: That would never have happened before Drag Race.
A: No, not at all! Think about that relationship between a parent and a child that can go to a drag show and it be this incredible place. Imagine being entertained by this live performance rather than sitting at home on a Playstation or something. What a great way to spend your teenage years. It’s great. So, I appreciate it for that.
Thank you very much for this.
A: Sorry for waffling on like ‘blah, blah, blah’.
C: No, no, no. It’s fascinating talking to you all.
Follow Alfie on Instagram @alfieordinary
So, to start off, how did you get into drag?
Baby: Right so I was studying music and I graduated last year. I graduated with my music degree so obviously I was broke.
Chris: English and film here. I can imagine.
B: Right! There was Lip Sync For Your Life at Bar Revenge and I entered it and then won it. Then I was like ‘Oh people want to start paying me to do this? And I like it?’ so I thought ‘Let’s start taking it seriously’. When I did Lip Sync For Your Life, I didn’t wear wigs, I didn’t wear heels, I didn’t tuck; nothing. I was just some androgynous kid in a leotard and some underwear.
C: And you’ve turned into a glamazon.
B: A beautiful butterfly! So, yeah, I’ve only been doing drag for about a year now.
C: Yeah, you won in 2017?
B: Yes, that was last summer.
C: That’s insane that you’ve had this huge transformation.
B: Yeah, obviously, I’m one of those people that when I like something I just want to get really good at it. So, I learnt to sew. I style my wigs. I do so much stuff that is so interesting to me.
C: And how did you form all those skills quite quickly?
B: I did a little bit of sewing in secondary school in textiles class. I understood roughly how it works. I done a little bit. I made a teddy bear and stuff. Little things like that. But yeah, mainly with YouTube. Anything else like makeup? YouTube. Wig styling? YouTube. If I struggled sewing the seams on sleeves or something? YouTube.
What does drag mean personally to you?
B: Oooh, drag is all the fun parts of myself, for me anyway. Obviously, people have different characters and have different things they want to put out with their personas. For me, it’s an extension of myself in the sense that Baby is me if I was a girl. There isn’t a whole different character. It’s just me with some makeup on and a wig and some nice clothes. I like looking like real girls with a slightly more fashion look.
C: With lots of jewels [reference to her face makeup]
B: Yeah but still very realistic. Do you know what I mean? Because I’m terrible at stage makeup. When I look at my face I don’t like looking at all the harsh lines on my face because my features are quite soft and quite round. I’d rather just paint quite normally and to make my eyes look huge. Rather than [makes gestures of jagged lines on face] because it just doesn’t work for me [laughs].
So, why do you think people, of all backgrounds, should embrace drag?
B: Because it’s a skill. I think before Drag Race and that, people just thought that drag was just ‘that guy just dresses up as a woman and goes and moves his face to song. Awesome, whatever’. But drag is so many different things. Especially when taken to a higher level. With me, I’m choreographing all my routines, I’m styling all the dancers as well, I’m styling myself, I’m sewing my costumes. There’s so much more involved and it should be treated like any other art form. It’s an amalgamation of art forms.
What’s your message for any new LGBTQ+ students coming to university for the first time and seeing and being exposed to drag?
B: Just keep an open mind. Go and support local drag. If you are interested in it, there’s space for it. The fact that you guys have a Drag Society here.
C: The first in the UK.
B: That’s what I mean. That’s f*cking amazing. There’s more a sisterhood. With me, I kind of did everything by myself. I didn’t know many other drag queens. I knew Lydia [L’Scabies] and Alfie [Ordinary] but I thought they were too cool for school to talk to but now we’re friends. At the time, I had to figure things out by myself and they’d say ‘Aw you look cute today’ but as I’ve gotten better they say ‘No you actually look good’.
How do you think shows like Drag Race and Dragula or queens that have gained popularity like Courtney Act, especially in the UK, help and hinder the community?
B: They help in the way of giving exposure. Before, drag queens were seen as clowns but now people take drag seriously and see it more as an art form. So, those people are opening up pathways so for little drag queens like me. I haven’t been on a TV show but because you’re popular and people like me in this town, they can support me and that’s money. So, that’s great but at the same time, I feel Drag Race has – I don’t want to get really political but I do –
C: Go ahead!
B: With race in Drag Race you see some very interesting things happen.
C: Yeah, I know. It’s horrible.
B: People will be like ‘If Drag Race came to the UK would you go on it?’ and that sounds awesome but at the same time I don’t want 13-year olds calling me the n-word on the internet. It’s a thing where every time its addressed by a black queen its met with a ‘Nooooo’
C: Yeah by a ‘Noooo, but that’s not me’
B: Yeah a ‘But we like Latrice Royale!’ And the thing is Latrice is lovely. Latrice is great. But look at like Shea Coulee. She realistically should have won Season 9 and as soon as Season 9 finished…
C: People just kind of stopped caring.
C: Even though she released ‘Crème Brulee’ and all the amazing things.
B: The amazing music! See ‘Cocky’ was on MTV and got around 2 million views and that’s f*cking sick. But realistically if she was a white queen at the same standard she would have been perceived in such a different way.
C: And yeah, Sasha [Velour] is absolutely amazing and deserves everything she’s gotten.
B: Yeah, of course. The roses in the wig were iconic.
C: But people give her a lot more focus than they would for Shea.
B: Yeah, and really everyone thought Shea was going to win until she didn’t. She won 4 challenges and the only other people to do that are Sharon Needles and Alaska [and BenDeLaCreme]. Shea Coulee dominated the competition. Sh*t like that. That’s where I start to see an issue with it. And with me, sometimes I only get booked for RuGirls if it’s a black girl being booked. I don’t get booked for certain things, though I’m just as good.
B: Yeah! And it’s not a thing of ‘I’m good too’. No, I am very f*cking good at what I do. I don’t have any issue saying that.
C: You prove yourself constantly on stage.
B: Yeah exactly. That’s the one frustrating thing. But it’s one of those things you can’t really do anything about other then just get on with it and make it work. So, obviously, you have to be twice as good to get half the recognition but at the same time I’m progressing at such an accelerated rate because of that. If I didn’t have the pressure to be a certain level, I wouldn’t look like this.
C: I mean good job.
B: Right? Thank you! If I felt like it was ok, I could just comb some boy hair out and just go.
C: Yeah, some people can get away with sloppiness or things because they’re a fan favourite. I’ve definitely noticed.
B: Yeah, that’s favouritism. But that’s not really anyone on Drag Race’s fault.
C: It’s society’s fault.
B: It’s society’s fault! That’s the way we perceive whiteness and how we perceive certain things in our culture. I can’t be mad at those guys they’re making their f*cking money. If people like me and people want to like me more than other people and pay me more than other people, I’m not going to be like ‘Pay that b*tch more!’ No! I’m going to take my f*cking money! So, well done to those guys for doing their thing. Kudos.
Thank you very much!
B: No worries, gorgeous.
Follow Baby on Instagram @babyxroh
Photo Credit: Chris Ahjem